Thursday 08 Dec 2016

Going Back
Jennifer Ramirez

Phil Collins began re-creating the traditional Motown sound as a form of therapy. With the help of engineer Yvan Bing, the results gave Collins his first number one album in 17 years.


Artists have been recording cover songs for years, and putting them out as singles, or b-sides. On the other hand, the trend recently has been to put out an entire album of hits recorded by others. Rod Stewart sold millions of CDs using this formula, and now Phil Collins is hoping to follow in “Big Nose’s” footsteps with his latest batch of Motown tunes titled, “Going Back.”

Long installed in popular music’s multi-million-selling pariah pantheon, there are fewer easy targets for arrows of essential opprobrium than 59-year-old Philip David Charles Collins. Granted, Collins has sometimes been guilty of painting the bull’s-eye on his own forehead. however nonetheless, the sometime Genesis frontman’s canon is so substantial and his hits so profuse that it feels myopic to dismiss him merely as a haughty purveyor of tortured, romantic ballads for the middle income world..

Collins has always had a fascination with Motown, and back in 1982 his cover of the 1966 Supremes classic ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ became his first UK number one and first US top 10 hit. Six years later, Collins co-wrote two hit songs with Motown songwriting legend Lamont Dozier: ‘Loco In Acapulco’ was a hit for the Four Tops, while ‘Two Hearts’ was a US number one for Collins himself. “Going Back“ carries on along similar lines, and although the lead single ‘(Love Is Like A) Heatwave’ - a cover of a 1963 hit written by Holland-Dozier-Holland and originally performed by Martha Reeves & the Vandellas - barely made a dent in the hit parades, the album was Collins’ first UK number one since 1993.

Undoubtedly, hip hop artists can’t get enough of the near-iconic In the Air Tonight, and Collins, lest it be forgotten, once lent his nimble stick-work to leftfield albums by the likes of Brian Eno and John Cale. All of which is a very long way from Motown: the adolescent Collins’ musical tipple and the inspiration for “Going Back“, his first solo album since 2002’s underperforming Testify. Released in 2010, the album received significant press, especially in the UK where it debuted at Number 4 and rose to the Number One spot a week later.

Even the titles are revealing of the differing missions: For Collins, “Going Back” suggests a return, a nostalgic retreat even, to music he clearly loved - particularly, classic R&B, heavy on the ’60s Motown sound; for Clapton, it’s about identity and the exploration of self, which he does by way of mostly vintage blues, R&B and gospel in which he immerses himself with more liberating gusto than he’s exhibited on record in a long time. The first song on the album, 'Girl, Why You Wanna Make Me Blue," is a re-release of the 1964 hit of the same name by The Temptations. With the usual upbeat Collins song approach, the song is a outstanding cover that, like the majority of the album, feels like a perfect revisit of his 1980s "golden years.”

The original versions of the songs on “Going Back“ were recorded between 1963 and 1972, the last years when Motown was still located in Detroit, where the company operated its own studio until 1967, after which time it ran two studios. Attempting to recreate the Motown sound from this era could have involved painstaking historical research and attempts to track down original equipment, but in Collins’ case, the focus was mainly on recruiting original Motown musicians, such as bassist Bob Babbit and guitarists Ray Monette and Eddie Willis. All three were members of the Funk Brothers, the pool of musicians that played on Motown records between1959 and 1972.

Collins takes on 18 tracks in an outing as comprehensible as it is unnecessary, a high-priced karaoke spin for the ersatz prog-rock-percussionist-turned-master-of-the-’80s-pop-single. He’s largely re-created the original arrangements of Motown standards such as “Standing in the Shadows of Love,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “(Love Is Like a) Heatwave,” “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” and “Going to a Go-Go.” But Collins’ bamboo-reed-thin voice is no substitute for towering oaks like the Four Tops’ Levi Stubbs, and the others who sang them the first time around.

The ballad "Blame it on the Sun" finds Collins again taking ownership of a song and delivering one of his better performances. In fact, throughout the set it’s the lesser-known songs like "Ain't That Peculiar" and "Too Many Fish in the Sea" that finds him performing at his greatest, almost as if his reverence for the classics limit him. It's demonstrated again as he closes the main set. " In My Lonely Room" is a good fit while his vocals on "Take Me In Your Arms Rock Me A Little While" and "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" make the songs no better than average and have you thinking about where the originals might be in your collection.

Some other songs on the album include "Papa Was A Rolling Stone", "Jimmy Mack (Hurry Back)," "Standing In The Shadows Of Love", "Going To A Go-Go" and many more. The majestic jewel in the crown on the album is the self-titled "Going.”

“Going Back“ was partially recorded at Dinemec Studio One, which sports a 48?channel Neve 88RS desk, a huge, wooden?floored live room and a large recording booth, and partly recorded at the Genesis studio, a studio in London and a couple of studios in New York. Bing explains that even though many elements of the original recordings, such as the drums, would have been recorded in mono with a single mic, he went for as much flexibility as possible by using several microphones, and then sorting things out later.

At his best here Collins has a way of customizing a song, not so much to make it his own but to convince listeners it’s theirs. And he succeeds most in doing so on relative obscurities like the Ronettes' "Do I Love You?" and the Temptations' "Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue)," both evoking an air of wistful romance. Another noteworthy highlight is the Stevie Wonder ballad, "Blame It On the Sun," which Collins renders with empathy and striking conviction.

Lyrically, Motown is one of the more simplified of all musical genres. That nonetheless, doesn't make it any less powerful than "progressive" or "art rock" genres. Its strength lies purely within its simplicity, with much power coming from the vocalist. Collins is not only a drummer; he is a vocalist. A talented one at that. The renditions of the songs are very faithful, and the more upbeat ones are pulled off very well.  It's always a treat to hear old-time lyrics, and "Going Back" certainly delights in the concepts that emerge from the peak of Motown. The sound is actually very faithful to the time period, and Phil Collins is able to pull off most, if not all the songs convincingly. However, when it comes to the slower ballads such as "Blame It on the Sun", Collins falters, losing grips on the soulful energy that characterized the Motown scene.

"Going Back" sends Phil Collins into retirement on what can only be described as a perfect, pristine high note. Collins' vocals have not missed a single beat and he not only revisits the songs of his youth by giving his own unique touch to his favorite Motown hits, but he also gives standalone, masterful performances and makes many of the songs his own, particularly the title track, "Going Back.” After over forty years of contributions to the music industry and being one of the best-selling, most popular artists in history, Phil Collins has officially retired and this 2010 album, "Going Back“ is a flawless retrospective look at not only his iconic career, but also his lifestyle.

"Going Back" may be Collins' final studio album, but the album is simply Collins take on his favorite classic Motown hits. His last studio album of original material is 2002's "Testify.” However, "Going Back“ is nothing short of a masterpiece for Collins who lends his iconic vocal style to some of the biggest and best tracks on Motown history, as well as one heart wrenching performance and accompanying video of the title track that sees Collins revisiting and reminiscing his past. “Going Back“ is absolutely for Motown or Phil Collins fanatics, but it’s surprisingly not the awful, schmaltzy Michael McDonald, Rod Stewart andHarry Connick, Jr. soccer mom album we all thought it was going to be.

Collins reminds us about the joy, the fun and the wonder of music made by the Funk Brothers. During the recording of, “Heatwave,” Collins supposedly claimed he felt an intense save of happiness, which he had not felt for a very long time. This comment, from the usually dour Collins, tells the tale of “Going Back,” that is, fantastic.

Jennifer Ramirez, known as Jenny, has reviewed and edited for 5+ years. Originally from Toronto, she grew up performing and competing in rhythmic gymnastics. Jenny enjoys reviewing movies, books and music albums. She describes herself as funny and righteous, with a 'go that extra mile' attitude. Her philosophy is quite simple: try to live life to the fullest Jenny writes that hr passion is books. She reads and reviews current and back-list literary fiction, crime fiction, thrillers, occasionally science fiction, and narrative nonfiction. She also loves music. She's a huge fan of The Maine and All Time Low! Joy is her favorite word and creativity is something she can't live without.

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